More people could die from disease than from bombings in the Gaza Strip if the health and sanitation systems are not repaired, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

Critical infrastructure in war-torn Gaza has been crippled by fuel and supply shortages and targeted attacks on hospitals and United Nations facilities since Israel launched strikes on Gaza on October 7.

“Eventually we will see more people dying from disease than from bombardment if we are not able to put back together this health system,” said Margaret Harris, a spokesperson for the WHO, speaking at a briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, November 28.

She described the collapse of al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza as a “tragedy” and voiced concern about the detention of some of its medical staff by Israeli forces who took over the complex earlier this month.

She also repeated concerns about a rise in outbreaks of infectious diseases in Gaza, particularly diarrhoea.

Citing a United Nations report on the living conditions of displaced residents in northern Gaza, she said: “[There are] no medicines, no vaccination activities, no access to safe water and hygiene and no food.”

The WHO says all key sanitation services have ceased operating in Gaza, which could increase the likelihood of gastrointestinal and infectious diseases among the local populations including cholera.

The WHO says it has recorded more than 44,000 cases of diarrhoea and 70,000 acute respiratory infections, but real numbers may be significantly higher.

James Elder, a spokesperson from the UN children’s agency in Gaza, told reporters by video link that hospitals were full of children with war wounds and gastroenteritis from drinking dirty water. “They don’t have access to safe water and it’s crippling them,” he said.

Despite the temporary truce agreement between Israel and Hamas, which was extended by two days just as it was set to expire on Tuesday morning, the Hamas-run Ministry of Health said no fuel had arrived for generators at hospitals in the territory’s north.

Gaza City Mayor Yahya al-Siraj said that without fuel, the territory could not pump clean water or clear waste accumulating in the streets, warning of a potential public health “catastrophe”.

Israeli Airforce attacks have killed more than 14,800 Palestinians, including 6,150 children and more than 4,000 women, according to health authorities in the enclave.